Rethinking Free Education: How Higher Education Shortchanges and Denies Access to the Less Privileged in Africa-The Case of Ghana

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ABSTRACT

It is common knowledge that in modern technological societies the allocation of social position is increasingly dependent on higher education. Thus, educational attainments beyond secondary school are presumed to have given citizens the habits of thought, attitude, and special skills required by employers. This paper examines issues related to access to universities and colleges in Africa, especially Ghana, not only in terms of students' socio-economic background, but also other psycho-physiological and cultural diversities prevalent among the populace. The paper also explores other factors affecting the demand for versus the provision of higher education in Ghana. It further investigates the importance of national and community development and involvement in producing a more equitable, cohesive, and economically successful society. Consequently, a pragmatic scheme within a perspective of widening accessibility and affordability will emerge to create a higher education that is "good enough for the best student and cheap enough for the poorest student."

INTRODUCTION

The many years of political independence in many African countries have not yielded a concomitant socio-cultural and economic independence. They still overly depend on foreign assistance, grants, experts, and technology. Compared to their counterparts in Asia that gained independence at the same period, there is a marked difference between the two regions in the industrialization and economic development race. It is imperative to search for the reason behind Africa's failure or inability to keep up with the rest of the world. If education is the indispensable key for development, then there is the need to explore the educational terrain to its logical conclusion. It is in this light that we believe that 'free basic education' is laudable but not enough for the development of Africa.

After fifty-two years of independence in Ghana, the first black country in Africa to attain political independence, most children who are ready and have the potential to pursue university education are still denied access to higher education. Higher Education should be understood within a wider conceptualization of provision of education--higher education refers to post secondary education offered by tertiary institutions and universities, which include degrees, advanced diplomas, or equivalent qualifications. Graduates of these programs are normally professionals expected to use their professional competence for the sustainable development of their societies (Muganda 2007). The historical barrier to higher education in Ghana and other developing countries in Africa stems from the fact that higher education was not a priority in the colonial policy. Thus, at independence most of the post colonial nations had to play catch-up in the education arena, especially in the sector of higher education (Muganda 2007). The first university college in Ghana, for example, was opened in 1948 but to date only a small percentage of the population has had the opportunity to partake in higher education. Ghana has six public universities, one private university, and seventeen university colleges.

The factors militating against access to the universities include lack of facilities (demand exceeding capacity), the aggregate of high school grades, inequity in gender and socioeconomic status, lack of resources and human capacity, and lack of financing. For example, in his 41st Matriculation address, Professor Kwafo Adarkwa (2007) intimated that out of 17,438 applications, the University of Science and Technology offered admission to only 6,868, a proportion of 39.38%. At the University of Ghana, out of 16,000 applicants, 7,500 (46.9%) were offered admission; of these 5,600 (35% of qualified applicants) duly registered. At the University of Cape Coast, 3,908 were offered admission out of 13,000 applicants, representing a 30% acceptance rate (Ghana News Agency 2008). …